Friday, June 30, 2006

Woman Walking Here Buddy

Ok, so I can't pull off a Ratzo Rizzo. I was over at the L'Enfant Plaza court yesterday, and was crossing the street to go to the Starbucks in the Holiday Inn there. As I'm crossing, in a crosswalk, with the light, a cab (moving slowly thank goodness, or I wouldn't be here), runs the red light, with this little old man at the wheel, focusing I guess, on the line of cabs in front of the Holiday Inn, instead of the woman in the crosswalk. I jumped back, and he didn't even notice that, just kept rolling into the hotel space.

I went into the Starbucks and was enjoying looking over some documents and drinking a nice Banana Coconut Frappuccino when I noticed a woman got into that old guy's cab. She sat there for a few minutes, then she got out, slamming the door and marched into the Starbucks. So of course I HAD to keep watching. She sat down near the window and pulled out her phone, dialed information for the DC Cab Commission and after sitting on what was probably hold for long enough to get her drink and sit back down, let fly with an earful to whoever answered that call. Apparently the driver refused to take her to wherever it was she wanted to go. I couldn't hear it all without going over to sit with her (ok, thought about it ... "Miss, I have a DC cab rider blog, tell me your troubles" LOL). I don't know where she was going, but according to her, the driver told her that he wasn't going there because he wanted to go home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cabbie Gas

No, not the intestinal kind. The fuel. I was up in Van Ness area today and noticed the gas station there had a sign up for gas prices, then next to it was a sign for Taxi Gas Prices, which were about 5 cents or so less for all the levels.

Don't know if that's unusual or not, but I'm betting cabbies are a great market to capture for a gas station.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Shout Out from Wet Washington

We seem to be on the down side of the rain/flood series we've been having here. According to the news, we've had over 13" of rain in the last 48 hours, which is more than 1/3 of our yearly rain total.

It's messed up metro, streets, offices, houses, just about everything. Fortunately our place didn't flood, we've got a better basement than I thought! And my office also has survived. But it's pretty freaky going along some of the streets and seeing water being fired out of office basements into the streets (that are already pretty well filled).

I haven't needed to take a cab anywhere during all of this, which is probably just as well. Haven't seen that many when I've been out. I think folks are all trying to dry out basements or not wanting to deal with the traffic messes.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Zones vs. Meters, take 4 -- testing the difference

I thought that was a funky thing attached to the dashboard of a yellow cab I was in a couple of weeks ago. Apparently Yellow Cab has been working with DC Cab Commission to test a fare calculator. It's not a meter, it uses GPS to read when a cab has crossed a fare zone. From the Washington Post:

Now, a little-noticed hybrid is being used in a growing number of D.C. taxicabs, one that may someday render moot the debate about meters versus zones by convincing passengers, perplexed by the city's unusual system, that their fares indeed are fair.For several months, about 100 drivers with Yellow Cab, the District's largest independent cab company, have been using a device called a fare calculator. The electronic instrument, mounted on a cab's dashboard, operates like a meter but uses the boundaries of D.C. taxi zones and the Global Positioning System (GPS). The device lets riders know, in a way that worn-out zone maps posted on the backs of cab seats cannot, that they have traveled from, say, Zone 1A to Zone 2C.

Yellow Cab, which has 650 vehicles, is not taking sides on that issue, general manager Roy D. Spooner said. The company, on Bladensburg Road NE, had planned to update its operations, replacing its old-fashioned dispatch room -- where operators slide the scribbled cab requests over to a dispatcher -- with computers and GPS.

Last year, after watching Digital Dispatch Systems, a Vancouver company, demonstrate its fare calculator to the D.C. Taxicab Commission, Spooner and Yellow Cab owner Vaughn Williams decided to give the device a shot.

Spooner and Williams see the fare calculator as an alternative to the zones-versus-meters debate and hope to install the device in more cabs.

"If you listen, people aren't really saying they want meters," Spooner said. "What customers are saying is they want fair and consistent prices. We wanted the public to see this alternative. It's not threatening, and it's very accurate. You can't trick it."

Stanley W. Tapscott, a member of the taxi commission, has called the fare calculator "the wave of the future" and said he helped Digital Dispatch Systems develop the device for D.C. zones. He has been using one of the calculators in the black-and-orange Lincoln Town Car he drives for Capitol Cab.

Some customers encountering the calculator are initially taken aback, he said, mistaking the device for a time-and-distance meter. But by the end of the trip, most seem to like it.

"I've had people get in my car and when I turn this on, right away, they get upset," he said, explaining that the meter starts with the base fare of $6.50 plus $2 for the radio call. "They say, 'Why is it $8.50 when we haven't moved?' I tell them when we cross a zone, it automatically calculates the zone. And then at the end, all I have to do is hit one little button and it will give you a receipt, with everything that was charged. It explains everything -- like a radio call, luggage, if there are three passengers, whatever."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Calling a Cab -- But Where is it Going?

Since I started this blog, my friends are always giving me taxi experience stories. I try and get them to blog it, but they don't seem to be that teachable ;).

The latest is my friend Kari, who called for a cab to take her to the airport. She lives on Wisconsin Avenue, in a building that is at least a 1/2 block off of the street. So for a treat, she decided to give herself a treat and call for a cab so she didn't have to drag her suitcases all the way out into the curb.

She called Diamond cab and gave them her address. Fortunately, the girl on the phone repeated the address, which reversed the numbers of Kari's building and put it on Connecticut Ave., not Wisconsin. Kari corrected her and went to wait for the cab. And wait. And wait. After 20 minutes she decided to give up and hauled her stuff out to the street to flag a cab. We're both wondering if some poor driver ended up at that reverse address on Connecticut, wondering where the fare was.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Meters vs. Zones, part 3

In today's Wash. Post metro section was a story about the zone / meter debate.

Some bits from the story

But the opposition already is primed for battle. Wright, now 83, is saying the same things he said in 1956 and periodically over the years when officials attempted to change to meters: Cabdrivers will not stand for it.

"We're going to fight it again," said Wright, who heads a drivers organization called the Taxicab Industry Group. "The zone system is a good system, and I'll tell you why: People in Washington, D.C., they know what the fare is because the zones don't change -- I don't care how much traffic you're in."

Taxis and their often confounding fares are an enduring -- if not always endearing -- feature of the nation's capital. Since 1933, when Congress banned meters in D.C. cabs, drivers have used the zones, concentric circles emanating from the downtown area, to determine fares. This can lead to some cockeyed prices: It is possible to travel from the eastern edge of Georgetown, 22nd Street NW, to the U.S. Capitol for the single-zone flat rate of $6.50, but a shorter trip that happens to cross a couple of zones can jump into double digits.

Visitors to the city find the zones either quirky or outrageous.

"It's one of the nicest things about D.C., a flat rate," Kevin Blackburn of Oakland, Calif., a banker who makes monthly trips to Washington, said as he stood in a taxi queue at a downtown hotel. "If they went with the meters, I would have to adjust, but it's certainly an easy way for somebody traveling around town. Most trips are between $7 and $9 with tips."

But John Alexander, a first-time D.C. visitor from Laguna Beach, Calif., who was in town for a Chorus America national conference, quickly soured on the zones. Like many residents who oppose the system, he suspects there is plenty of room for a driver to cheat.

"Last night, I had to go to a dinner, and the cab that brought me back charged me twice as much as the cab that took me there," he said as he waited for another taxi outside his downtown hotel. Well, maybe not quite twice as much, he amended, but $12 vs. $19.50.

Alexander said he questioned the more expensive driver about the discrepancy. "But he said, 'That's the cost,' and something about the districts or zones or something. I paid it. But if there was a meter, you wouldn't have to deal with something like that."

Many residents seem to share that opinion.

"Zones confuse me," said Susan Wagner, a school librarian who lives in Southeast. "I think I may have been overcharged, but I really don't know."

Elliott Nickeson, a lance corporal stationed at the Marine barracks in Southeast, considers the zones "ridiculous."

"There's nothing to look at, nothing to tell you anything," he said. "I don't know how many districts we went through. I don't like the whole idea that the driver seems to decide the price."

The District has more cabs per capita than any large U.S. city, Toney said. That is perhaps in part because so many of the drivers are self-employed. There are about 6,500 taxicabs here, prowling the streets for passengers. New York City, with more than 10 times as many people, has about 13,000 cabs.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Traveling Mini Bar?

Interesting ride in a Diamond cab last week. The driver had little pouches attached to all of the passenger doors. Each had little water bottles, power bars, tissues, few other things. I wasn't hungry or thursty, so didn't ask for anything, but thought it was an interesting way to travel. The driver was very kind, waited for me to get into my apt. and everything.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Who Wants to go to the Airport?

Cab I was riding in last night had a hand-written sign hanging from the dashboard in front of the passenger seat that was a long rant (ok, argument) that was meant to convince people of two things -

1) Doormen and others steer people away from cabs and into car services / limos;
2) That cabs are less expensive than limos ($15 from downtown vs. $20 -something for limos).

It left me with two questions:

1. Do doormen really do that?
2. Why would a cabby want an airport ride? Sure it's $15 from downtown, but since you can't pick up anyone at the airport, it's a trip back for no money. Wouldn't two quick downtown to downtown trips give you the same money? I don't get this desire for airport rides.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

2 Cabs, 1 Airport

A couple of years ago a friend of mine & I flagged down a cab for National airport. We had luggage and told the driver where we were going while we got into the cab. All normal so far. As we're driving through Adams Morgan heading downtown, the driver started talking with someone on his phone in a language we didn't understand. So we had no idea what he was saying.

When we got to Constitution Avenue, the cab stopped by the side of the road, just behind another cab. Our driver got out, got our luggage and took it to the other cab. We followed, not wishing to be separated from it LOL - asking what on earth was going on. Our guy mumbled something and went back to his cab. The new one took us to the airport. We asked him what was going on and he didn't say anything other than he'd been asked to help finish the trip.

Still wonder from time to time what that was all about. Thoughts?